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VIA Launches Low-Power Nano Processor Family

The chips could initially be used in thin and light laptops and later in sub-$500 mini-notebooks with screen sizes of less than 10 inches.
VIA Technologies, which is battling Intel in the ultramobile PC market, on Thursday launched a line of low-power processors for mobile PCs ranging from thin and light laptops to mini-notebooks.

The Nano line, based on VIA's 64-bit Isaiah CPU architecture, comprises five models with maximum power consumption ranging from 5 watts to 25 watts. Clock speeds range from 1.0 GHz to 1.8 GHz.

The power efficiency of the new products makes them candidates for use in power-efficient PCs offered to businesses. The chips, however, could find a bigger home initially in thin and light laptops and later in sub-$500 mini-notebooks with screen sizes of less than 10 inches. Battery life is particularly important for the latter notebooks, which are primarily used for accessing the Web on the road.

The Nano builds on the company's C7 processor line, but offers as much as four times the performance within the same power range, the company said. Nano processors can be used in the same C7 socket, making the upgrade easier for computer and motherboard manufacturers.

The Nano's performance boost is because of the manufacturing process that shrinks the size of transistors on the chip to 65 nanometers versus 90 nm for the C7. More transistors on a chip translate into higher power-to-performance ratios. VIA designs the chips and contracts manufacturing with Fujitsu.

The Nano line supports a full 64-bit instruction set and has a 1-MB L2 cache. The chip's VIA V4 Front Side Bus has a speed of 800 MHz. The processors have on-die hardware cryptographic acceleration and security features.

A white paper on the Nano line is available on VIA's Web site. The processors are available to computer and motherboard makers. Systems featuring the chips are expected to hit the market in the third quarter of the year.

VIA, based in Taiwan, specializes in low-power processors for running Windows. The company this month released its own reference design for mini-notebooks, an emerging category of PCs with screen sizes less than 10 inches and costing less than $500. Analysts expect the lightweight, ultraportable devices to catch on with some consumers, particularly businesspeople who spend large amounts of time on the road and students strapped for cash.

Worldwide shipments of mini-notebooks, such as the 7-inch Asus Eee PC, are expected to increase from less than 500,000 units last year to more than 9 million in 2012, according to IDC. Because of the low average selling prices, revenue will be less than $3 billion.

VIA's most prominent challenger is Intel, which is expected to ship its own low-power chip, dubbed Atom, soon. The small-footprint processor is designed to operate in the 2- to 4-watt range.